Publishing My Own Book

A brief guide to how to publish your own book, based on my own experiences

how to self-publish a book

I like to think I'm an author. I've published two books and a few short stories and I've edited a cookbook. Do I have any bestsellers? No. But I think I know my way around the publishing world just a little, and I thought I'd share some of my experiences with you, so you could avoid some of my mistakes.

Publishing with a major publishing company like Dutton or Prentice Hall

I published a children's book several years ago with a major publisher. It sold pretty well. Though it's now out of print, you can still find used copies of it on Amazon. Most of the books that were sold went to libraries (as far as I know,) without any effort on my part to promote the book.

The advantages of publishing with a major publishing company

Publishing companies have an "in" with libraries and booksellers.

Your book will probably get reviewed in at least some publications, like Kirkus and Library Journal, and some libraries will feel they really ought to have a copy.

They'll pay you an advance.

Not only do you not have to pay them anything, they'll actually pay you some money when they sign the contract. It's called an advance on royalties, meaning they expect to sell enough books to cover your eventual share of the profits.

The disadvantages of publishing with a major publishing company

It's really hard to find someone to publish your book

I wrote a lot of manuscripts, sent them out to a lot of publishing companies, and got a lot of rejection letters. The up side of that is that sometimes you'll get some constructive criticism with a rejection letter. Most of the time, though, it's a form letter that is just crushing to the ego. Even famous writers like Gore Vidal got lots of rejection letters.

I finally got my book into publication by giving a manuscript to someone I met at a book show who worked for a publishing company. He passed the book on to an editor, and I was elated to get a phone call offering a contract.

Second disadvantage: You've got an editor

I'm not saying this is always a disadvantage. I've read lots of books whose authors thank their editors profusely on their acknowledgments page, saying how hugely they helped.

In my case, my editor made choices I simply felt were wrong. She chose an illustrator whose work I simply hated. (Fortunately, she accepted my criticism and found someone else.) But it left me wondering if she really "got" my book. The editor also made subtle changes to my text, which I felt detracted from it. Okay, maybe she knew better, but again, the changes made me wonder yet again whether she "got" my idea. Finally: she changed the ending! She called me up after I'd signed the contract and told me my first ending was unacceptable. I wrote a second one which I thought was a great improvement over the original, but when the book came out, she'd used the original words — but with a picture that I felt belied the premise of the book!

Again, maybe my experience was unusual. The woman who edited my short stories also made changes. I didn't care for them, but at least I understood why she made them.

Self Publishing

"Vanity" Presses

There are companies that will take money from you and, in return, offer to publish your book. DO NOT USE ANY PUBLISHER WHO CHARGES A FLAT UP-FRONT FEE OF MORE THAN A FEW HUNDRED DOLLARS!

When I wrote a book a couple of years ago, I decided to skip the long process of submitting to publishing houses. Instead, I found a company that promised to edit, publish and promote my book for a fee of several thousand dollars.

I should have said no as soon as I saw the contract. It stipulated that they owned movie rights and other such lucrative sources of income. It provided me with a very small portion of the selling price, and it was stuffed with legal safeguards — not for me, for them. For example, if I was unhappy about the relationship, I had to promise to submit to arbitration — in the town where they were located.

Foolishly, I went ahead. The woman I spoke to seemed nice, and promised I'd make lots of money. — another warning sign! Most authors don't make money. Unless you're James Patterson, keep your day job.

Well, I submitted my manuscript and got back an "edited" copy, with very few changes, most of which I thought were dumb. A few weeks later, I got a call from my "editor", telling me she was leaving her editing job to go work as a sales associate for Target!. Wow! My "editor" probably knew less about writing than I did!

The worst part of the experience was that I waited...and waited...and waited for the galleys. After months of waiting and sending emails, they finally came...and they were terrible! Whoever heard of a children's book with small print? Also, they'd incorporated a registered logo that would have gotten us into legal trouble!

To sum up, I'd stumbled across a company that, although they supposedly were well regarded in the field of self-publishing (I checked online,) had NO apparent expertise, and dragged their heels for months.

Print on Demand (POD)Publishers

My chosen way to get published

There's a new kind of publisher out there now. Sometimes referred to as "on demand" publishers, they will publish your book with little or no upfront cost, except for specific fees for designing and helping prepare the book. Two of the bigger ones are iUniverse and XLibris. They also guarantee that you keep the rights to your own work.

I chose CreateSpace They offer book publishing options to meet any needs and budget. You can sign up free.. The fee for publishing my book: $0. I created a PDF, uploaded it to their website, got feedback on whether it would print ok, and got online support immediately when I had a question. The cost for all this: nothing. The only upfront cost I paid was $39 for getting a better deal on buying multiple copies for myself. (Of course, if you want extra services, like having a book jacket designed, you'll pay an extra fee.)

Here's the best part of going with CreateSpace: I got to set my own price, and a large chunk of the profit on any book that's sold comes to me.

My book is listed on Amazon, they provide me with an ISBN number and an author's page, and if I want to sell copies myself, I can buy them from Create Space for just a couple of dollars apiece!

Why would anyone do it any other way?

By the way, it's a good idea to have an author website to publicize your book. For tips on how to set up your own author website, check out Setting Up a Website

Contact me Irene Herz at
Here's the book I wrote